…as I often like to say. Except I really couldn’t say it between New Zealand and Thailand, because California was really more east from there. Well, at any rate.
I landed in London feeling slightly better after sleeping relatively comfortably through most of the nine-hour flight, where I was promptly introduced to the worst immigration officer in history. This guy was the biggest prick imaginable. Here I was after four weeks in India, miserably ill after a nine-hour flight (of course he didn’t know this), unable to have been more thrilled to be making it back to “Western Civilization,” our mother nation, founders of freedom, democracy, English language, comrades in arms, GREAT BRITAIN…and this guy absolutely dresses me down.
First of all, I didn’t have an exact address for where I’d be staying. Also, under “Occupation” on my arrival card I only wrote “Traveler.” These two combined led to a rather crabby line of further questioning. He asked me how I live, how long I’d stay in the UK, how I would support myself, how and when I was leaving, and more — all fairly reasonable questions if not exactly cordial. Having only about 2,000 rupees in my pocket I was told, “well that might get you one meal here so that’s meaningless to me,” and offering to show him my bank accounts online, “well I don’t have internet here so how are you going to show me,” and on like this for probably a half-hour. “The problem with you Americans is that you all think you can just show up here with your USA passport and get in and go wherever you want.”
“Do you not like Americans?” to which his demeanor changed slightly.
“Oh well, no, of course that’s not the case I’m just saying you guys are always coming here and expect to get right in and it’s my job to make sure that you’re not going to work illegally or stay beyond your time allowance, etc. bullshit etc.”
“Well I have two options. I can send you on the first flight back to India, or I can do you a favor and let you pass.”
I can fully understand and appreciate his concern: with my onward flight (on my RTW ticket) to Brazil not being until September, and because I don’t have a specific address, and can’t prove that I have money, that I am going to try and work or otherwise stay illegally in the UK. It’s a reasonable concern and it’s his job to protect British borders.
However, even if I couldn’t immediately produce the truly hard evidence to the contrary, the documentation I did have, logic and common sense pretty clearly showed that: a) I have been traveling around the world for five months; b) I’ve been able to support myself thus far and therefore I probably have some kind of plan; c) my journey will continue outside of the UK.
Perhaps it was more just the way he acted towards me in such an adversarial and threatening manner, or that I simply didn’t expect such a cool reception in England. In any case, while unpleasant, I was finally allowed to enter, if delayed and somewhat dismayed.
And, despite my less-than-welcoming entry experience into the UK, I know that it’s extremely difficult for foreigners to enter the United States, compared to which this was probably a breeze. So I need to be mindful of this and take it all in stride.
This was but one of now many examples I’ve had in a somewhat depressing illustration of why the USA and Americans are not particularly well-liked around the world, which has led me to a great deal of reflection on the subject. After much thought and consideration, I plan to write more about this. I’ll hope to have your audience.
* * *
Welcome to British pounds, at the bargain price of one dollar and fifty-five cents each. This is going to hurt.
I spent most of the day in London, visiting Westminster, the Battle of Britain Memorial, the Houses of Parliament and I even sat in on a spirited debate concerning the Barclays bank scandal in the House of Commons. I ran out of time for Westminster Abbey, so I walked down to Trafalgar Square to get a glimpse of ‘ole Horatio, the most revered naval commander in history.
By this time my health was declining rapidly and I needed to get back to Paddingtond Station for my train to Bridgend. There was so much more I wanted to see in London, but knowing I’d be back in a couple of months I wasn’t overly concerned.
After several hours of beautiful English countryside I arrived in Bridgend, where I’d been almost two years earlier for the blessed occasion of matrimony between Rob and Laura Morgan. And there he was waiting for me at the station, my favorite Welshman, ZK 738 in the flesh. I mustered my remaining energy into a rousing fist pump and fraternal embrace, and we headed back to Rob’s place.
It was fabulous being with family and great to catch up with Rob and Laura, who were seven and a half months pregnant. They are both well into their teaching careers and have a beautiful home in a quaint little neighborhood, walking distance from a proper British pub and where I had a spacious and comfortable guest room to myself for as long as I wished to stay.
Thinking I could power through this round of food poisoning I pretended that I wasn’t sick for the first two days, eating and drinking as if I were catching up with an old fraternity brother. Rob’s sister Abbey took me into Cardiff, the capital city of Wales, to see some sights including a fantastic tour of Memorial Stadium, as well as completing a few personal tasks like exchanging rupees, dong and baht and getting a UK SIM card.
The next day Rob took me into Cardiff for an awesome speedboat cruise around Cardiff Bay. By the time we returned to Bridgend, however, Indian vengeance was upon me in full force and I was back to the infirmary. I thought I was over it but by that night I was in full relapse with fever, chills, body ache and explosive diarrhea, causing me to finally take a trip to the Bridgend Emergency Room.
This turned out to be an bright spot. I walked in dreading a long wait, as most Americans would be accustomed to. Exactly 12 minutes later I walked out, including check-in, consultation and diagnosis, with a prescription for antibiotics and having already been administered a first dose. All for free. Unbelievable.
It took me another three or four days just to get back on my feet, during which I essentially laid low in Bridgend and enjoyed spending time with Rob and Laura.
After a week in full I departed Bridgend by train to Manchester, where I met up with James, an English friend who I’d met in Australia and enjoyed some outstanding adventures with. We spent the day exploring Manchester, stopping into English pubs and checking out Old Trafford, home of the Manchester United Football Club. That evening we took a train back to James’ hometown of Frodsham, where I stayed with his awesome family for the night. We ate pizza and drank beer. Ahhhh.
The next morning I took a train back to Manchester, where I would fly out later that evening to Brussels. Before leaving though I met up with Stacey, an English gal who I’d met while she was studying abroad in the US. We had lunch and a couple of ciders before I made my way to the airport.
Fuck RyanAir. Seriously, this is the most crummy, underhanded, deceitful, low-life business I’ve ever patronized. If you do ever fly RyanAir, I implore you to read every single word of fine print and click on every link to become abundantly clear on every angle where they are trying to fuck you. Maybe I’ll write it out in detail some other time, but it’s really easy to get charged and extra 60 pounds on your trip or more if you make any false move. Fortunately I’d been warned of this and so avoided extra fees, other than the 25 pounds ($38) to check one bag, which I was forced to do because you’re only permitted one carry-on.
Despite being sick, the UK was a lovely experience and welcome respite from the chaos of India – and especially reconnecting with old and new(er) friends. Even so, I found myself disappointed with the several examples I encountered of anti-US sentiment throughout my time there. With so much common history, heritage and culture, I found myself often wondering how and why so many British people harbor apparent disdain for the USA. This would become a common theme in the coming weeks, one which has occupied considerable time in my thoughts and reflections.
On to the continent, Belgium, and beyond.